The Carpenters Arms, gangster pub
When this photo was taken, The Carpenters’ Arms in Cheshire St was the most notorious pub in London – owned by the gangster twins, Reggie and Ronnie Kray who bought it in 1967 for their mother Violet. They grew up in house just a hundred yard away at 178 Vallance Road, went to Wood Close School in Brick Lane and as youngsters frequented the Repton Boys’ Boxing Club (London’s oldest boxing gym, established in 1884 and still in existence) midway between the pub and their home. This was their manor, they hung their boxing gloves over the Carpenters’ crest behind the bar and such was their gallows humour that (so the story goes) they had the counter made up from coffin lids.
The Krays were pair of cruel psychopaths who became the most infamous of East End gangsters and bizarrely sought out the society of celebrities in the vain hope of drawing attention from their litany of crimes. It is strange to me that Barbara Windsor (someone for whom I have great respect) can claim to have known nothing of the brothers’ criminal activities while she was dating Reggie. Eventually, both twins ended up convicted with life sentences for murder and the whole story came to its grim conclusion when Reggie Kray’s funeral cortege passed by the Carpenters’ on its way down Cheshire St on 11th October 2000.
Nowadays, the Carpenters’ is a welcoming place with a fashionable clientele and an impressive range of over fifty different ales from all over the world, landlords Eric and Nigel keep it as fresh as a pin and there is always a large display of fresh flowers on the bar.
Before they took over, Eric and Nigel were regular customers here and when the previous management went bankrupt early in this decade, they struggled for years to obtain the lease, fighting off property developers who wanted to turn it into flats. When they moved in, it had been shut for four years and the place was stripped out, only the bar counter remained. Constructed of panels of glossy heavy timber – this could be the Krays’ coffin-lid counter. Nigel told me the Krays decorated the place in a faux Regency style with striped wallpaper to match their West End nightclub, and he pointed to a chip in the paint on one of the cast iron roof pillars revealing the burgundy colour scheme of that period.
Nationwide, thirty six pubs are closing every week and in this climate a pub has to be special to survive. But I have every confidence that, in this current celebrated incarnation under Eric and Nigel’s joint landlordship, the Carpenters will be here for us for a long time. I like to pop in regulary for a drink early in the week on a quiet night and now, apart from a discreetly placed print of the long-departed evil twins, you would never guess at its sinister past.